The local digital radio multiplex service licence for the Stoke-on-Trent area was awarded to TWG Emap Digital Ltd. on Thursday 6 February 2003, to run for twelve years from the date the service commences broadcasting.
Applications were invited on 30 August 2002. By the closing date of 10 December 2002, one application was received, from TWG Emap Digital Ltd., a company whose shareholders are The Wireless Group plc and Emap Digital Radio Ltd.
Consideration of the successful application
- Coverage area and timetable
TWG Emap Digital Ltd intends to launch the multiplex in April 2004, subject to frequency clearance, with a minimum of five commercial programme services. The application proposed using transmitters at four sites which would provide 'outdoor coverage' of an estimated 69% of the adult population of the Stoke-on-Trent 'primary protected area' (PPA). However, the Authority's engineers and the applicant are already discussing a modified technical plan aimed at delivering significantly enhanced coverage.
2. Ability to establish and maintain the service
The Wireless Group plc and Emap Digital Radio Ltd. are both experienced operators of local digital multiplexes, and Members took the view that the application produced by TWG Emap Digital Ltd. presented a sensible business proposal, characterised by prudent operating costs.
3. Catering for tastes and interests of people in the area
The commercial programme services now proposed by the applicant are as follows:
Adult contemporary Signal 1 (provider: The Wireless Group plc)
Classic hits/gold Signal 2 (provider: The Wireless Group plc)
Dance Kiss (provider: Emap Performance Ltd.)
Non-stop pop Smash Hits (provider: Emap Performance Ltd.)
Modern rock The Storm (provider: GWR Group plc)
and, once providers are identified:
Easy listening (or alternative Provider to be confirmed format)
Country (or alternative format) Provider to be confirmed
Signal 1, the commercial FM service for the Stoke-on-Trent area, and according to recent RAJAR figures the most listened-to station within its coverage area, will be simulcast on the multiplex, along with its complementary AM service. As a result of the Authority's recent reinterpretation of the definition of a 'simulcast' programme service, while remaining consistent with the proposals in the Communications Bill, Emap had taken the opportunity which this offered to provide a further channel on this multiplex within the permitted ownership limits, with Smash Hits now to be carried from launch as well as Kiss. Members considered that there was some bias towards services targeting younger listeners in the programming line-up, and hoped that the group would be able to recruit services attractive to older age groups when considering programme providers to fill the remaining capacity on the multiplex.
4. Broadening the range of local digital programme services
Only around one-third of the population of the Stoke-on-Trent 'primary protected area' is covered by either of the partially overlapping MXR multiplexes serving the neighbouring North-West and the West Midlands regions. With this in mind, the Authority took the view that the 'broadening of choice' criterion was of little significance in this award.
5. Local support
Direct local support for TWG Emap Digital's proposals for a multiplex in the Stoke-on-Trent area was largely generated by Signal Radio. The station engaged the local community in its proposals by writing to local opinion-formers and by staging a day of DAB radio seminars at its studios. Of the substantial numbers of endorsements which accompanied the application, the high level of strong support from local Members of Parliament was particularly noteworthy.
6. Fair and effective competition
The Authority has been given no reason to believe that the applicant did not act in a manner calculated to ensure fair and effective competition when contracting or offering to contract with potential or proposed service providers. In accordance with the licence conditions pursuant to the Broadcasting Act 1996, the Authority will keep matters of fair and effective competition and undue discrimination under regular review.
Copies of the non-confidential section of the application were made available for public inspection in Hanley Reference Library, and at the Authority’s offices in London. A notice was issued on 10 December 2002 inviting public comments on the application.
Under the terms of section 51(2) of the Broadcasting Act 1996, when considering whether, or to whom, to award a local digital radio multiplex licence, the Authority must have regard to the following specific matters:
- the extent of the coverage area as proposed by the applicant;
- the timetable relating to achievement of the proposed coverage area and the start of broadcast services;
- the ability of the applicant to establish the proposed service and to maintain it throughout the period for which the licence will be in force;
- the extent to which the digital programme services proposed to be included in the service would cater for the tastes and interests of persons living in the area and, where it is proposed to cater for particular tastes and interests, the extent to which those services would in fact cater for those tastes and interests;
- the extent to which any proposed digital sound programme services would broaden the range of programmes available by way of local digital programme services in that area and, in particular, the extent to which they would cater for tastes and interests different from those already catered for by local digital programme services already provided in that area;
- the extent to which the application is supported by persons living in the area; and
- whether, in contracting or offering to contract with persons providing digital programme services or digital additional services, the applicant has acted in a manner calculated to ensure fair and effective competition in the provision of such services.
The Authority is also required to take account of any representations made in respect of applications.